February 21, 2022 • 9:00 am

I’ll be going to Antarctica and the Falklands next Sunday, and will be gone a bit more than four weeks. I suspect I’ll be busier with lecturing this time than I was two years ago, so I wanted to warn people in advance not to expect much posting during my absence. Last time I was there, it took forever to post, as internet in that area is—as you’ll understand—slow and dicey. To post photos, for example, I had to downsize each one to about 250kb, and it was time-consuming.

All I can say is that I’ll do my best to keep readers informed and also to send photos when I can.  Because of the email situation, I ask that you keep communications with me to a bare minimum, i.e., no wildlife photos. If you have important articles, send them, but please combine them into one email every week or so. As always, I’ll do my best.

This week’s postings will also be sparse as I have a gazillion things to do to prepare, for I’m doing another lecturing trip—this time to the Mediterranean—two weeks after I return. More on that later.

I wanted to put just one photo up of my last trip, but I got obsessed. Here’s why I wanted to go back so badly. (Click photos to enlarge.)

One of the world’s only three species of flightless duck!

On the way soon!

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 10, 2022 • 8:45 am

Please send in your photos, and if your handle is “Punky McPhee”, please resend me your recent batch of pictures, as I’ve somehow lost them. Oy!

Today we have a special batch of close-up photos from James Blilie, whose captions and info are indented. Click the photos to enlarge them.

Here are a group of my photos I will group under the theme “up-close”.

When I am out with my cameras, I try to keep my eyes down as well as up and notice the small details and textures of the landscape, not just the broad vistas and charismatic main characters of the scenes.  I have tried to eliminate from this set:  Anything that could be considered a portrait or conventional landscape and to concentrate on only the very small details and the shape or texture of the land.  These tell a story too.

It’s a challenge for me not to turn a detail into a (more conventional) landscape using a very wide angle lens, which I often favor.  In my 20s, my “walk-around” lens was a 20mm (on 35mm film).

Equipment:  Pentax SLR cameras, Pentax DLSR cameras, Olympus M4/3 cameras. Epson Perfection V500 scanner and its native SW; Lightroom 5 SW. Kodachrome 64 predominantly, some digital.

First up:  Rock strata, Glacier National Park, Montana.  And creek bed rocks. These image say Glacier to me:  The iconic blue and red rocks of the sheer mountains of this park. Kodachrome 64.  1990.

Frost on chain link fence, Shoreview Minnesota.  Pentax DLSR.  2013? I love the color banded bokeh in this, contrasting to the crisp frost.

Detail from a door in Stavkirke, Norway.  Pentax DLSR.  2012.

Detail, Post Alley, Seattle, Washington.  The famous gum wall.  Olympus M4/3.  2016.

800-year-old fingerprints, southern Utah.  Anasazi ruin.  I could see the fingerprints in these finger impressions in the mud of these walls.  (Take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints, and as little of those as possible.)  Kodachrome 64.  2001.

With your love of cats in mind:  Cat footprints in concrete, Hemingway House, Key West, Florida.  Olympus M4/3.  2019:

Wall detail, Seguret, Vaucluse, France.  Pentax DLSR.  2010.

Rubber tree, Malaysia.  Kodachrome 64.  1991.

The next two are from Nepal.  Footprints on the trail, and barley drying on homespun. Kodachrome 64.  1991.

Stone wall detail, Loire Valley, France. Kodachrome 64.  1992.

The rocky surface of The Burren, County Claire, Ireland, near Galway.Kodachrome 64.  1992:

Finally, I can’t further resist a couple of food and drink shots.  Picnic in the Haute-Savoie below Mont Blanc:  Local bread, sausage and Tommes de Sallanches cheese on an olive wood cutting board from Provence.  The Haute-Savoie is one of the most scenic places in the world. Fantastic beer, by the way.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 22, 2022 • 9:30 am

Richard Dawkins and Robyn Blumner (CEO and President of CFI and of the Dawkins Foundation) were in Dubai this past week, and both sent photos. I don’t have many captions, but these show you the intricate topiary and some of the food. (Photos by both RD and RB.)

A topiary plane!

Camel meat for dinner. Robyn said it “tastes a lot like beef but drier and chewier.” Sounds like beef jerky to me.


Some pictures of the flamingos in Dubai at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary:

My book at the mall in Dubai. Robyn said that they didn’t carry Faith Versus Fact, but that was no surprise to me.


Readers’ wildlife photos

December 31, 2021 • 8:30 am

Please send in your photos. Tomorrow’s a holiday and you’ll probably be hung over, so it might be good to quietly put together a good batch of pictures. Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Let’s finish off 2021 by finishing off Athayde Tonhasca’s two-part series on a tour of Scotland. (Part 1 is here.) The captions are his, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Hi Jerry. As the tank is draining, please consider a cultural/historical tour of Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle, which was besieged 23 times, captured by English invaders more than once and retaken by the Scots. It’s hard to comprehend how such a place could be conquered without treachery or starving the defenders. This photo was taken during the firing of the One o’clock Gun, which has happened daily since 1861. The shot fired by the original 18-pound gun would be heard for miles, allowing sailors to adjust and reset their chronometers. The One o’clock Gun was an alternative to the Calton Hill Royal Observatory’s time ball, which was dropped at 13:00 h daily but often could not be seen by the sailors because of the fog. But why 13:00 h? Astronomers were usually busy with observations at noon, so the following hour was a convenient option.

A view of Edinburgh with the port area of Leith in the background. Leith was Darwin’s playground. He came to Edinburgh at the age of 16 with his elder brother Erasmus to study medicine, but young Charles hated it. Instead of dedicating himself to his studies, he spent most of his time collecting specimens along the shores of the river Forth. In her monumental 2-volume biography (Charles Darwin: Voyaging,, and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place), Janet Browne discussed how important Leith was for Darwin’s scientific maturity. 

Statue of philosopher, historian, economist and Edinburgh’s native David Hume on the Royal Mile. In a development that would amuse, frustrate or perhaps enrage Hume, rubbing the big toe of his right foot is considered good juju: the act supposedly transfers wisdom and insights to the faithful (indeed, toe-rubbers could use a dose of wisdom). But neither Hume’s magic powers nor his position as one of the greatest figures of the Enlightenment cut the mustard with the Latter-day Puritans (aka Church of Woke) who came to dominate Scotland’s political and cultural scenes. They demand the statue’s removal because Hume’s views on race are not quite up to scratch with today’s standards. The craven administrators of the University of Edinburgh already caved in: they renamed Hume Tower “40 George Square”.

A barometer mounted on a 1790 tower in Stonehaven (near Aberdeen). The barometer, dated 1852, was of immense benefit to local fishermen. Barometers were enthusiastically promoted by Captain Robert FitzRoy, skipper of HMS Beagle during Charles Darwin’s famous voyage, and a pioneer of meteorology. Fitzroy is one the least celebrated great British scientists, and a lot of drivel has been written about him. He was a troubled soul (he killed himself, just like the previous captain of the Beagle), but Darwin may not have completed his voyage under a less skillful commander. John and Mary Gribbin co-wrote an authoritative biography of this great man. This Thing of Darkness, by the late Harry Thompson, is a captivating and historically accurate fictional narrative of Fitzroy’s life.

The River Tay and Birnam Wood of Macbeth fame: “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him.” General Macbeth understood this prophecy to mean that he would not be overthrown unless the Birnam trees moved on their own to his castle in Dunsinane. So understandably, he felt smug about it. But Macbeth was caught with his pants down when his castle was attacked by an army camouflaged with tree branches cut from Birnam Wood. Shakespeare may have never been to Scotland, so today Macbeth would bring the Bard the charge of cultural appropriation.

Caber tossing during the Highland Games held at Dunkeld, near the village of Birnam. ‘Caber’ is a tapered pole about 6-m long and weighing up to 68 kg. The athlete’s objective is to toss the caber head over heels, so that it falls on a straight line from him.Highland games are held all over Scotland during spring and summer, and they involve stone-throwing, straw-tossing, bagpipe playing, dancing, and other Braveheart activities. Canadians have a huge presence.’

JAC: I put in a video of a caber-tossing contest so you can see how it looks:


Opening ceremonies of the Dunkeld Highland Games.

Scurdie Ness Lighthouse, located at the treacherous mouth of the River South Esk, near Montrose.The lighthouse was built by brothers David and Thomas Stevenson, who designed over 30 lighthouses around Scotland, including the spectacular Bell Rock lighthouse (worth checking it out). Their nephew, Robert Louis Stevenson, supposedly was inspired by his uncles’ lighthouses to write Treasure Island and Kidnapped.

A vitral in Perth depicting Scots (kitted in red-on-yellow Rampant Lion vest and banner) and Englishmen (rallying around the yellow-on-red Three Lions banner) engaged in the long-standing tradition of mutual slaughtering. These sporting events came to an end with The Acts of Union of 1706, which created one of the world’s most enduring and successful political associations (Ireland came into the fold in 1801). The Union Jack echoes the unification by combining the English St George’s Cross, the Scottish Saint Andrew’s Cross, and the Irish Saint Patrick’s Cross. Wales is not represented because it was legally part of England since its annexation in 1282.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 18, 2021 • 8:45 am

We’re having a touristic/historical photo experience today courtesy of reader Athayde Tonhasca Júnior.  Athayde’s words are indented (quotes from Wikipedia are doubly indented), and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Perhaps the crew would enjoy a short trip to a British Historical site.

Any history buff visiting UK (traveling is just around the corner, let’s have faith…) should consider a trip to The Vindolanda Museum and Hadrian’s wall. Both are about 1 h from Newcastle.

From Wikipedia:

Vindolanda was a Roman fort and is an active archaeological site located in Northumbria. Predating the construction of Hadrian’s wall, Vindolanda provides a look at Roman life on the frontier. Based on current excavations, archaeologists date the fort as being occupied from 85 BCE to 370 CE..

The fort:

This site is significant due to the artifacts that have been preserved in the Anoxic conditions of the area, such as the Vindolanda tablets, which are the oldest preserved writing in Britain. The Vindolanda Tablets were, at the time of their discovery, the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain They are a rich source of information about life on the northern frontier of Roman Britain. Written on fragments of thin, post-card sized wooden leaf-tablets with carbon-based ink, the tablets date to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD (roughly contemporary with Hadrian’s Wall). The documents record official military matters as well as personal messages to and from members of the garrison of Vindolanda, their families, and their slaves. Highlights of the tablets include an invitation to a birthday party held in about 100 AD, which is perhaps the oldest surviving document written in Latin by a woman. The translation is as follows:

Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings.

On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present. Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him their greetings.

I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail.

To Sulpicia Lepidina, (wife) of Cerialis, from Cl. Severa.

Photo and caption from Wikipedia:

Roman writing tablet from the Vindolanda Roman fort of Hadrian’s Wall, in Northumberland (1st-2nd century AD). Tablet 343: Letter from Octavius to Candidus concerning supplies of wheat, hides and sinews. British Museum (London)

The tablets are fantastic, and so are the shoes. They don’t look very different from our footwear. From the Museum website: “One of the most prevalent types of objects to come from the site are leather boots and shoes. We have some 5,000 of them in many different shapes and sizes. They tell us a lot about the people who lived here nearly 2,000 years ago.”

A boot:

A fancy shoe:

An intricate sole:

As for the Hadrian Wall, “it is the remains of stone fortifications built by the Roman Empire following its conquest of Britain in the second century A.D. The original structure stretched more than 70 miles across the northern English countryside from the River Tyne near the city of Newcastle and the North Sea, west to the Irish Sea. Hadrian’s Wall included a number of forts as well as a ditch designed to protect against invading troops. The remnants of a stonewall are still visible in many places. Contrary to popular belief, Hadrian’s Wall does not, nor has it ever, served as the border between England and Scotland, two of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. However, it does hold significance as a UNESCO World Heritage site and a major tourist attraction” (History website).

Section of the wall by Vinolanda:

The Wall facing east:

The tree marks the Sycamore Gap, one of the most photographed spots in the country. The tree of uncertain age—”a few hundred” is the best estimate—stands along the Hadrian Wall, about 3 km west of the Roman Fort. It’s a nice walk, but the terrain can be challenging to some. You already saw it if you watched ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ with Kevin Costner.

And what our photographer dubs “The latest archaeological discovery at the site”:

JAC: Here’s a map of Hadrian’s Wall, a World Heritage site, which runs 73 miles from coast to coast (there’s a footpath); much of it remains. Wikipedia notes:

Hadrian’s Wall marked the boundary between Roman Britannia and unconquered Caledonia to the north. The wall lies entirely within England and has never formed the Anglo-Scottish border.

You can read about the more northerly Antonine Wall here.

A drone descent down Angel Falls

December 17, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Here’s a wonderful video taken from a drone circumambulating the tallest waterfall in the world, which of course is Angel Falls in Venezuela. The spot is difficult of access, and it’s always been on my bucket list. I doubt that I’ll ever see it, but what a sight it must be!

The YouTube notes:

GoPro Family member @Ellis van Jason sets off on an adventure to Venezuela to capture the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall. Angel Falls, known as Salto Ángel, has an initial drop of 2,648ft (807m) and a total height of 3,212 (979m).

h/t: Paul

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 16, 2021 • 8:15 am

PLEASE send in your wildlife/landscape/street photos. The holidays are nigh (9 shopping days before Coynezaa begins), so perhaps you’ll have time to gather some pictures and send them.

Today we’re going to see photos of the Australian Outback, continuing the trip of Linda Taylor that we saw yesterday. Actually, today’s photos are from the first part of her trip.  Linda’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. I put her first bit in not as self-aggrandizement but to show that we have some hard determinists among us. I will excuse the word “blog”!

I’m a big fan and I read your blog every day.  Of course there’s no free will and at times I have found that to be a comforting thought!

I’ve enclosed some photos of my 2015, it’s now or never, trip to the Bungle Bungles in Western Australia. Unfortunately there was precious little wildlife because of the cane toad invasion but the scenery is unique so I’ll let you decide if you want to show the photos. At that time I only had an iPhone but I have since upgraded to a better camera.

The entrance to Purnululu National Park:

It was the dry season and we hiked into the Bungles along the Piccaninny River bed.

Camp was set up in Piccaninny Crater, an ancient meteorite impact site. The left half of the pool was for swimming and the right half for drinking. No one got sick!

From the impact site five fissures or canyons spread out and each day we explored a different one. Here are Livistonia palms and plenty of fruit bats which due to their diet were not affected by the cane toads.

The pink pools:

Hiking up boulders tossed by the meteorite. Frighteningly deep crevasses between those boulders!

From Jerry:  I’ve enclosed a photo of Picaninny Crater from above taken from Wikipedia. The caption: “Landsat image of Piccaninny crater (circular feature in centre), Western Australia; screen capture from NASA’s World Wind program.”  You can see the five rivers flowing out of the impact area. 

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 19, 2021 • 8:00 am

We’re running a bit lower on photos than I like, so please gather up and send in your good wildlife/travel/street photos. Thanks!

Today we have travel photos from Richard Bond, which will make you antsy to get on a plane. (Well, it did for me!). Richard’s captions are indented and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Since you accept travel photos, perhaps you might like these: a few of the high points from a tour through four cities in SE Asia.

The seven-headed cobra is a common motif in Cambodia, and this photo shows an example that I liked very much in the balustrade of steps leading to a temple near our hotel in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh lies mostly on the west bank of the Tonle Sap river and the much larger Mekong. Unsurprisingly, river traffic is important. The first photo below shows boats at the southern tip of the peninsula formed by the confluence of the rivers. I believe that people live on these boats. Ferries are a necessity: see the second photo.

Between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap we stopped at a market. The foods for sale included many stir-fried invertebrates: first scorpions, and then a much larger variety; the pale things in the right foreground are silkworm grubs.

I really liked Siem Reap. It is most noted for the Angkor Wat complex of temples, but there are many more features of interest. This photo shows a home on the nearest of the many floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake. This lake was filled annually when the Mekong floods caused the Tonle Sap river to flow backwards. Today China diverts so much of the Mekong for its own use that this no longer happens as formerly, and it might be that the lake will become so polluted that the floating villages will no longer be viable.

Here we see a man in a workshop that produces examples of typical Cambodian art. This is not tourist tat: these people are real artists who take great pride in their work. I preferred this photo to some that I took that showed faces because it exemplifies the total concentration of these fine craftsman.

Near Luang Phabang we visited a rice farm, where we saw all stages in the production of rice from preparing the paddy to polishing the seeds. I was amused by the “scarecrow” made from rice stalks; nothing goes to waste. (Yes, I fully admit to an idiosyncratic taste in what is interesting.)

Here’s a water buffalo dragging a rake with huge tines to churn the paddy into mud for planting. As it shows, we were invited to take part in the fun. The man in the green shirt was our guide here, and he was outstanding: totally expert and spoke fluent English with almost no accent.(All of our local guides in all three countries were excellent.)

The Kuang Si waterfall, comprises a series of cascades through tropical forest. Thought not particularly high or of large volume, it really is very beautiful. My photo does not do it justice.

This photo was taken in an enclosure near the bottom of the falls that houses Asiatic Black Bears (Ursus thibetanus) rescued from tiny cages where they are “milked” for their bile for use in traditional “medicine”. Many of them were captured when young, so would not thrive if released into the wild. In any case, they are extinct in the area and for hundreds of kilometres around, so there is no wild population that they could join. The enclosure is large and packed with trees and wooden structures to give full scope for their arboreal habits, so it was quite difficult to get a good photo. This was the best that I could manage.

I was not in much of a state to appreciate Hanoi and I took hardly any photos. I was unexpectedly tired. It transpired that I was suffering from severe anaemia caused by a condition that later landed me in hospital with sepsis. On top of that I was starting with the worst cold that I have had for a long time, probably caught from a pushy gaggle of Chinese tourists in a Luang Prabang museum. This was a pity, since Hanoi looks interesting. However, I did enjoy a boat trip around Haiphong Bay (no walking!). These two photos show a couple of the nearly 2,000 islands.

Here is a local fishing boat. Some fishing areas are in dispute between Vietnam and China, with Chinese gunboats armed with water cannon disrupting the Vietnamese boats (according to the Vietnamese).

The islands are limestone, and one has a cave complex. I did not feel well enough to tackle what looked like an intimidating flight of steps, and anyway I am claustrophobic, so I stayed on the quay while the rest of the party went to the caves. After a while I noticed the boat in in this photo turned out to be fishing litter out of the water. I suppose that anywhere popular suffers from people dropping litter (probably Chinese tourists) but such an effort to clean it up is commendable.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 27, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please keep those photos coming in, folkx!

Today we have a melange of travel photos by Joe Routon. Joe’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

First, I’ll post my photos of visitors from Asia who have invaded Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and a few other northeastern states. The nefarious planthopper Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is wreaking havoc with trees. The photo on the left was taken around the middle of July; the one in the middle, photographed with my new iPhone 12 Pro Max, taken a month later, and the one on the right taken yesterday.

This is the Market Hall in Ghent, Belgium. It’s an open area that’s used for events and concerts.

Here’s my slightly Photoshopped photo of Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle, in Transylvania, Romania.

In the spirit of Brussels’ famous statue Manneken Pis (“Little Pissing Man”), Helsinki, Finland, has its own “Bad Bad Boy,” which is about 28 feet tall.

Here’s one of my photos of the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.

I made this photo of the Andes Mountains on our trip to Peru.

Here’s one of my photos of the magnificent, breathtakingly beautiful Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

Reader’s travel photos: Nagasaki

August 9, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Since today is the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, reader Joe Routon sent us some photos from the area. His captions are indented and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

My Trip to Nagasaki

My father, a Marine lieutenant during WWII, was one of the first Americans to enter Nagasaki after the bombing of the city. He and other Marines, who were stationed there to help maintain order, lived in the Mitsubishi factory for several weeks, unknowingly absorbing harmful radiation. Fortunately, he lived to the age of 83, unlike many of his fellow soldiers who succumbed to cancer, caused by exposure.

It had long been a goal of mine to visit Nagasaki, so my wife and I planned a trip of several weeks to Japan.

On our train ride to Nagasaki, we passed through Hiroshima, site of the first atomic blast, on August 6, 1945. Gazing through the window at the buildings and the people walking the streets, I tried to imagine that day.

Our visit to Japan so far had included Tokyo, Nikko, Takayama, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, and Kurashiki. We found the Japanese people to be unfailingly polite, helpful (one lady went out of her way for four blocks to guide us to our hotel), considerate of others, and welcoming to us American tourists.

Our day in Nagasaki began with a streetcar ride to Peace Park, at the epicenter of the atomic bombʼs explosion. We lingered for a few minutes at the wing-shaped fountain that was dedicated to the fatally wounded who begged for water.

Heading farther into the Park, we stopped to see statues and sculptures from all over the world that were donated to Nagasaki to memorialize the atomic bombing. We passed by the ruins of the concrete walls of a prison where 134 inmates had died instantly.

At the end of the Park is the Peace Statue: a seated man, 30 feet tall, with one hand pointing up in the direction from where the bomb had come and the other extending outward in a gesture of peace.

The statue, “Maiden of Peace,” was given to the Japanese people by China.

A few hundred yards away, the exact epicenter (the bomb exploded 1500 feet above) is marked with a black pillar placed in the center of concentric circles on the ground that signify the spreading waves of death. A black coffin in front of the pillar contains the nearly 150,000 names of all of the known victims of the fiery blast.

The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum pulls no punches. Its photographs and videos of the city before and after the explosion are mind-numbing. Inside, the lighting grows dim and a clock can be heard ticking away the seconds until 11:02, when it abruptly stops.

Displays show hand bones melded in the searing heat (7000 degrees F.) into a clump of melted glass, remnants of a personʼs skull inside a helmet, clothing exposed in the bombing, photographs of dead and dying victims, and video accounts by survivors.

Other exhibitions show damage caused by heat rays, by the force of the explosions, by fires, and by radiation. Viewing them is not a pleasant experience, but, like Auschwitz, it is something that should be seen by everyone.

Whether or not the bombing was justified, countless innocent lives, young and old, military and civilian, were lost; animal and plant life were destroyed. Visiting this museum is the closest you can come to comprehending the horrific magnitude of the death and destruction of atomic warfare.

I came to Nagasaki and got a glimpse of what my father experienced 63 years ago. By connecting with history, I connected with him.